There’s Magic in the Trees
An ethereal, high-minded getaway in the woods of Monmouth is a childhood dream come true.
When Lindy Snider was a little girl, she dreamt of walking through a wardrobe door and into Narnia, a land where trees talk to brave children, Father Christmas is real, and birds and badgers are natural allies. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis was one of the first books that captivated Snider’s imagination. “It was the first book I really remembered, and what stuck with me was that image of children stepping into another world,” she says. “Every child believes there is a possibility that the world holds magic, and I was at that age.” We’re standing outside her tree house, a two-story structure perched in a cluster of seven tall hemlocks. This fanciful getaway is located on the shores of Cobbosseecontee Lake in Monmouth, where Snider and her extended family own multiple camps (and have for generations). While I haven’t yet spotted a talking squirrel in a waistcoat or witnessed any miracles, certainly Snider has succeeded in creating a place that transports one to another realm: the wide-eyed joy of childhood.
You may have already seen this house. The clever structure was featured on an episode of Animal Planet’s show Treehouse Masters, where it was described as the Ethereal Portal Treehouse, a nod to its literary inspiration. But seeing it on television isn’t quite the same as walking around inside the house. From a distance, the tree house looks static, contained. Covered in reclaimed wood and topped with a standing-seam metal roof, it blends into the trees, disappearing into the forest. From a distance, it looks rather small.
But once you get inside, it feels like stepping into a new world. Where the outside is dark and weathered, the inside is light and airy. And somehow, despite all rules of physics, it feels as though it’s bigger on the inside than its 600-square-foot dimensions. The design team packed in two bedrooms, a living room with an electric fireplace, a full bathroom (with a tiled shower), a kitchen, a breakfast nook, and a dreamy porch that looks out toward the calm green waters of the lake.
All of these amenities made building the tree house something of a challenge, but Snider says that was part of the fun. Pete Nelson, star of Treehouse Masters and owner of Nelson Treehouse and Supply, was “so enthusiastic,” says Snider. “I wanted it to be fully winterized, with a working kitchen and a tiled bathroom, and they don’t do a lot of houses like that. I wanted to be able to actually live here. They were excited by that idea.” Working with Greene-based contractor Dave Cadman of Cadman Construction, Nelson created a stable platform for the house, which is anchored to the trunks of seven large trees with metal bolts and supported by five steel poles set into concrete. To showcase their foundational work, Cadman takes me underneath the house. “It’s designed so the trees can move and sway, but the house will stay steady,” he says. “It’s built kind of like a regular house, except there are more nails, more screws, and instead of framing walls and standing them up like a normal house, they built the walls in Washington state, trucked them in, and put them on the platform with a big forklift.”
Construction happened quickly, although it took some time to figure out the best site. “I was religious about having a minimal amount of trees come down,” says Snider. Once they found a group of hemlocks that could support the house, Snider began her efforts to preserve as much nature as possible on the active construction site. “I went around marking certain plants,” she says. “I found these rattlesnake plantains, and they look like something that you could find in a rain forest.” She moved the wild orchids, ensuring that even the smallest flowers wouldn’t be threatened by the ambitious project.
This attention to nature is apparent inside the tree house, too. Not only are visitors ensconced in a canopy of green, but they’re also greeted by cool ocean tones and soft, natural fabrics at every turn. Christina Salway, interior designer for Treehouse Masters, worked with Snider to understand her client’s hobbies, interests, and tastes in order to create a space that would be tailored to her. “She got it. She knew what I wanted, almost before we even met,” says Snider. “I wanted something ethereal, light, and airy, with pieces by Maine artists and local craftsmen.” Salway brought mosquito netting into the main bedroom to create a white cloud above the bed, and she sourced soft wool blankets from Swans Island Company to drape over the living room couch. She included several nods to C.S. Lewis as well, such as a lion head sculpture that sits on a living room shelf. To create a portal into the bedroom, Nelson found a real wardrobe, cut it in half with a chain saw, and affixed it to the wall so that, when Snider retreats into her private space, she can walk through a magic portal of her own. To cement the house’s connection to Maine, Salway found locally forged hooks to hang on the walls and ceramic salt and pepper shakers shaped like barnacles that rest upon the kitchen table. Snider has always enjoyed sailing, and she wanted to bring in nautical elements to reflect her love for the Maine coastline. “In a lot of ways, a tree house is like a boat,” she explains. “You have very limited space, and you always have to put everything back where it belongs. This house is like that— it’s extremely efficient.”
Recently, Snider spent her first full week living in the tree house. Although she spends her workweek in Philadelphia, she comes to Maine as often as she can. “Maine gets into your blood,” she says. It’s also in her children’s blood. “My daughter and I stayed here together, and we had the most amazing, uninterrupted time. We don’t have cable or Wi-Fi. We spent our time reading on the porch, and painting.” Snider calls the tree house her “happy place.” “It takes you to a different vibration, and it resets your stress levels.”
During that relaxing week, Snider also learned more about her hideaway. At first, she thought the cutouts in the porch around each tree trunk were there for aesthetic reasons. One day, a storm came through, and the entire house began to sway and move. “I realized they cut around the trees so that the porch wouldn’t crash into them,” she says. “Everything here has a purpose.” As the thunderstorm raged, Snider and her daughter took shelter inside and listened to the rain pound on the roof and run into the copper gutters. “Here, you realize that you’re not tucked away safely and protected from nature,” she says. “You’re part of it. You’re part of the elements. There is something timeless and primal about that.” There’s also something sublime about living so close to the wild woods of Maine, something that feels almost miraculous. “To me, magic is right here,” Snider says. “I feel that when I’m in nature. It’s all around us.”